Today on Impact! with John Shegerian, John interviews a long-time friend Tony Schifano who was previously on Green is Good Radio years ago, about his involvement in the green/sustainability space. Tony is one of the pioneers of the sustainability movement and currently runs Antos Environmental. Listen in as John and Tony talk about a wide variety of environmental and sustainability issues!
John Shegerian: Welcome again to the Impact podcast. I am JohnShegerianand I am so honored and excited to have my good friend Tony Schifano on with us again. He came on green his good years ago and he has done so much since we have last spoken with him. Welcome to the Impact podcast, Tony.
Tony Schifano: John, such a pleasure to be with you again. My old friend, it has been how long since that?
John: Oh my gosh, six or seven, maybe eight years. It feels like a blink of an eye, but for guys like you and me life moves so fast now and it just feels like it was a moment ago. So it is just wonderful to hear your voice and you have been doing so many fascinating things that our listeners need to hear about. But before we go into everything you are working on right now and the period of the world history that we are living through together with all our listeners, I want you to share a little bit about what has happened at Antos Environmental since we have last spoken and the evolution of of your company.
Tony: Oh, that is a nice question. Thanks. Well, since we last spoke, of course, we have just continued to grow exponentially and much of my work has been in health care for all of the thirty years. A good decade ago, we started looking at how we can affect and change the way or other organizations operate such as universities and corporations. So westarted taking our expertise in that direction and it happened quite accidentally, John, because we often service some very big health systems like the University of Miami Medical Center, but they are attached to two huge campuses of the University of Miami. So after a while the schools were just asking us, “Hey, could you come help us?” And you know, I am very passionate about my work, so it was an easy “yes”for us. And when you have been experience doing hospitals and healthcare organizations, as long as I have and they are very complex as you know, and very scientific and challenging in terms of how many waste dreams actually exist in healthcare organization moving to a non healthcare organization and forgive me. I mean, no ill-will with this statement, but it is much easier for us. I mean, there is no medical waste. There is no pathological waste to speak of coming out of the University. So we started making a move in that direction and it was so lively and vibrant for us dealing with university students and staff who really just want to do the right thing and helping them and guiding them just opened up the doors for us. And now of course we are partnered with an organization called E&I Education and Industry, a wonderful organization that has a few thousand universities connected to them and they introduced us like, you know that format of a GPO kind of thing. But a little different, they really develop relationships and they have gotten us in front of many many universities. So that happened and we got very very busy.
Tony: Then at one point, some of these larger organizations stepped in and really wanted to acquire us and I was not certain whether I wanted to do that. I have been working with organizations likeAramark, Sodexo, Crothal and the like for many many many years and I have some great friends in all of those organizations, and some of them sort of stepped up and started to show an interest because none of them actually do what I do and when we partnered we had so much value to their proposition. So the long and the short of it is I ended up selling my company and I thought I was very happy.You know, you work hard and I have got to be in my 60s and thought, well, this might be a good time. Well, the long story short is that I did not know what to do with myself. The people who were running my company with all due respect know how to run my company. Certainly, they did not have the passion I have around our work because it is not their work. Their work is something else and they wanted to sort of add my stuff Scotch tape it to their stuff. SoI was watching a little decline and I was not as busy as I wanted to be and I am not the kind of guy who embraces the word retire. So I bought my company back. I know that sounds a little wild but it did not feel well to me. We bought it back. They were happy. I was buying it back because they were sort of confused on how to operate it anyway. And John, I have been the happiest guy ever since and I have to have a purpose and this is what I do. I have been busier ever since and I have got my boys involved in the business, which is a real pleasure for me. And we have been now sort of focusing on the things we love to do and and it is great because we save people tons of money and we make money. You know, I always tell people– I sleep at night because I really live my life honestly and ethically.I have a great moral compass around this work and I get checks in the mail. We do this work and then we get paid. It is like a miracle so it feels good. I feel really blessed, John. That is kind of short stories.
John: Tony, you love what you do. So that is why your joy is always so easy to to see and hear when I speak with you every time, whether it is on the phone or on the show.I always sense how happy you are doing what you are doing and that is why you are also great at what you do.
John: For our listeners out there that want to find Tony’s great company Antos Environmental or want to use their services, you could go to www.antosinc.com. Tony, you and I were chatting last week in catching up just as two friends do and we both were sharing the timesthat we live in in our experiences that were both going through, both our families, friends and our businesses, and I would love you to share some of your thoughts and comments around this covid tragedy that the world is facing right now, how it relates to medical waste generation and just some your general thoughts around where we are going with this and how we can better handle this crisis from a medical wasteperspective and from a healthcare perspective as well.
Tony: Another great question and thank you for that opportunity because it really starts back more than thirty years ago from me, John, to answer that question because you know, I started my career– Well, I started my career scraping gum off the stairwell at Columbia Presbyterian [crosstalk], like most of us, right? But at some point, school and a lot of hard work, I found myself in hospital management and in the late 1970s, we experienced something like this and it was called the AIDS epidemic. Everything that makes my company what it is today came out of that experience. You know, like you because I know you and I sense things about you and our friendship, we look at what reveals itself in life, and if you have youreyes open then you miss things and I always have my eyes open. Back in the late 1970s, I watched this AIDS epidemic create a hysteria and a level of paranoia that I never experienced in my life. And my hospital at the time was Booth Memorial Medical Center in Queens. It is now– I do not know what it is now. I think it was New York Hospital Queens. It might have even transition to something else.
Tony: Anyway, I am standing in this five hundred bed hospital andwe were generating about ten red bags a day back then, John. It was called infectious waste. When you saw a red bag, you got really nervous. You know what I mean? It was a lot of integrity in that bag. And in seventy-two hours, there was a red bag everywhere under secretaries desk, in the bathroom. It was the most unbelievable reaction that I had ever seen because universal precautions came out then, which was highly misinterpreted and basically they said,”Anything, everything is infectious, unless you prove it otherwise,” which means what everything, blow your nose in a tissue, went to red bag. Then that time what happened to me because I was a young man hungry for money. I quit my job and I got a truck and we created this third licensed medical waste hauler in the United States and we were picking up “medical waste” and laughing all the way to the bank because these red bags had flowers, pizza boxes, soda cans and everything. The whole hospital is red bagged. I do not want to tell you how much money we made in the first nine months. But we were laughing all the way to the bank. I am embarrassed to tell you. That did not work for me in a very short period of time. I sold a company within two years. That company became Browning-Ferris Waste and then Browning-Ferris, of course so-
Tony: BFI and they sold this TerraCycle, which TerraCycle originally formed. They estimate of become, you know, a CEO or COO or something, but I did not want to do that because I knew that picking up waste material carried an agenda that I did not want. Okay. So let us fast forward the tape to now to this covid-19. And of course, I have thirty years of experience, you know stars and all these things that have come. What immediately happens and I mean no disrespect to any of my friends in the disposal business, but there becomes a dialogue out of that industry that is predatory based in my opinion and I am speaking like a capitalist but there is a lack of consciousness, I think, because they create that nonsense paranoia and of course, our behaviors shift and volumes increase and their revenue increases. We are seeing that now throughout many healthcare organizations around the United States, around the world. Actually, we saw it in China and will get the China in a conversation I am sure, but I have been trying to deal with that volume and the technological void in China so that it can handle the volume properly. But everything about managing emotions and then waste, it comes from emotion. It is a behavioral thing and we have to manage our behavior and hospitals because waste is garbage and garbage is a brilliant word and garbage translates to let us not pay so much attention to this kind of psychologically. It is sort of drifts away from priorities and before you know it, a hospital that was paying a hundred thousand dollars a year is now paying a half a million dollars a year because their behavior change, the paranoia drove these nonsensical changes in operations, and we are seeing it again and it is a little upsetting to me and I have a lot of work ahead of me with clients. There was a time when we were working with Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and when we arrived, there cause for medical waste were six hundred thousand dollars a year, John. When we left it was eighty, six hundred to eighty.
Tony: What it is supposed to be. I mean, we measure medical waste volume based on adjusted patient day activity. It is a very scientific and behavioral process. And this covid thing is just going to blow this right out of the water again, because people are red bagging, PPEs and all kinds of crazy stuff that they really do not.
John: So you are saying some of the bad actors will get involved and take advantage of this crisisand tragedy until folks like you step in and bring some rationality to it.
Tony: Well, there is a whole lot of money to be made in crisis and tragedies [inaudible]. I mean even as we see the stock market tanked, there are people thinking about how much money can be made moving into that environment and it is the same thing here. I appreciate that. Do not get me wrong. This is America and we are allowed to do that. But I think and what I am hopeful for is somewhere inEarth 2.0. What comes out of this is more of a moral and ethical sort of compass for all of us where it is more of like, do unto others not before they do unto you because that was what we have seen since 1929 to 2020. Everybody is in this do unto others before they get it themselves. But now we need to be out reaching that hand of helpfulness and generosity and this is the time to give without expecting anything in return. Believe me, John. I am a businessman. So do not think I am naive or do not think that I am about to start working for free, but I want the people that are in related industries to understand the whole picture and you know, hospitals right now are in a crisis. They are spending money they do not have. This is all over. They are going to have to recover businesses not going to be as usual. It is going to be quite different. I am not sure what it is, but I hope it is kinder and gentler.
John: Again, for our listeners who want to talk to Tony and his team about some of the services they could get from him at Antos Environmental, you could go to www.antosinc.com. So many of your amazing clients are on your website NYU Langone, Mount Sinai and some of the greatest brands in healthcare in the world you service. I thinkfor a lot of our listeners out there that are need for these kind of services or want to get an assessment to make sure that they are paying rational pricing during this type of crisis, I think it would serve them well to be in touch with you and of course I have nothing to do with Antos Inc. except just to bring them to someone who is really the godfather of this industry in so many ways and also a great person.
John: Tony, one of the things I want to talk about are some of your unique partnerships and leadership positions, you have taken not only in the United States but around the world with regards to healthcare and education. And first I want to hit upon this unique partnership and story that you have created in Puerto Rico. Can you share with our listeners what you are doing there, how you got involved and how that evolved over the last five years or so?
Tony: Absolutely. It is been a real delight for me personally and amazing experience for my company. I go back again about seven or eight years. The first time I visited actually going to Puerto Rico is in 1967 as a very young man, and it was just an enchanting place for me to be and I have some friends who live up here in the Berkshires and they went to school in Puerto Rico as children in the 50s and they always talk to me about helping Puerto Rico and I was always interested.
Tony: Well, one of the people they went to school with, absolutely wonderful man who I just lost. I miss him terribly. His name is Dr. John [inaudible] He is an epidemiologist and he was the Secretary of Health of Puerto Rico for two terms under both political leaderships. John went to a place called The Robinson School. A friend of mine went there with John and his children, and this gal said to me, “Hey, won’t you fly down there and meet John? He is great guy.” Well, I did and meeting John was like meeting a brother from another mother kind of like you, John. You just kind of connect. It is a soulful connection.
John: Instinct chemistry.
Tony: Well, that is just the chemical thing and it was wonderful and John did not know me or anything I did. You know, over the years while we have had so much success in medical waste management, reduction and efficiencies, we embraced all waste streams now, so solid waste, pathological, confidential and all kinds of things around sustainability, which is the key word here. We talked about John and I. He said, “I guess you want to get a hospital client.” And I said, “Well, I would love that.” But he took me to the biggest hospital, there was on the island, and we were contracted under three months and we reduce their costs and volumes by sixty-five percent and it became a minor miracle, but some of their regulations and laws were outdated. So we connected with the Environmental Quality Boards down there, and the DEC of Puerto Rico is actually connected to the DEC of New York and I had wrote regulations for the DEC in New York many years ago. To make a long story short, we updated all the regulations which led me to relate to many of the politicians. I got to meet the governor at the time, et cetera. And long story short, John, when you live on an island, any Island, but in this case Puerto Rico, there are many many challenges, you know the idea of throwing something away. About 20 years ago, I coined the phrase, there is no place called the way.
John: That is right.
Tony: It really stuck that phrase but on an island, there is no place called the way, right? I mean it just going to go away and you got to think differently when you are on an island andthere are some areas of the island where you are at a stoplight and you watch somebody through a coffee cup out a window, just breaks my heart. So I started to contemplate the idea of a cultural transformation and you can imagine that is a pretty heady thought, but it leads me to some very big personal growth when I think about that because how the hell am I going to do this? But the fact is, I have got to create a cultural transformation because they are generating the island, eleven thousand tons of solid waste material a day.Their landfill space is filling rapidly. They have a number of landfill space that are not approved by the EPA and some of the private spaces, it is just a matter of time before they are full. So what happens once these things are full in their shut, they end up dumping waste in the mountains. And by the way, they are dumping waste on the side of 95 on the east coast of Florida today because there is no landfill and they can not get the State of Florida to change their behavior. This is really a human tragedybecause if we just changed the way we are, our being, it is not about doing anything different, about being something different. If we can just stop landfilling waste, then we could solve so many problems.
Tony: Well in this case, Puerto Rico’s got eleven thousand ton of problem. Forty percent of it is food and all of it can be compost and turned into a soil amendment. That soil amendment would happily go to all the young farmers in Puerto Rico,which now are starting a whole new industry. So we are trying to create that shift and that movement pull forty percent of the food out. And then recycle at least fifty or sixty percent by creating a circular economy, turning plastic, metal and things into road surfaces and end up with maybe two or three thousand tons a day, which we can ultimately make go away with some zero-waste initiatives. But the real key of course is to educating the young, so we have infused ourselves into the school systems down there, particularly the Robinson School and many others where we are teaching the young people and helping them learn about composting and recycling and why buy a plastic water bottle when you can bring a water bottle from home and reuse it. This is the simplest thing in the world, John, but how many millions of people around the world just do not do that. We have acres and acres of plastic floating in the oceans and this has to stop.
Tony: My work in Puerto Rico is been very satisfying for me because we are moving in that direction. There is a real awareness happening. And this takes time, John. Going to take generations, you know. Hopefully my sons will continue this long after I am gone, but it is a very satisfying experience for us. We have been contacted now by other Central American countries like Panama, et cetera. We are studying what they are doing in the Philippines. Right now, believe it or not, because the covid and everybody is at home. Nobody is on the road. There is a perfect opportunity to resurface the road. So the Philippines making their plastic and their glass and they are creating this unique road surface and they are redoing all of their roads during this time. And you know, we have to start thinking that way, John.
Tony: So Puerto Rico to me now– I have some friends. I just lived there for the past year. I have my daughter at the Robinson School actually and learning a Spanish. She is a fabulous twelve-year-old and we just had a real experience living there. We moved back since because of the virus and we are going to stay here now for a while. When this virus is over, I am probably going to be quite busy and then of course I have this China thing going on and that is going to keep me busy too.
John: We are going to get to that in a second. Before we get to that, I just want to note a word from our sponsors. One of our sponsors here at the Impact podcast is Companies for Zero Waste. Companies for Zero Waste, theirgoal is to educate policymakers, corporations and investors to accelerate the movement towards eliminating waste and optimizing resources. To learn more about Companies for Zero Waste where Tony is going to be speaking at one of their next conference a date soon to be announced, you can find them at companiesforzerowaste.com, companiesforzerowaste.com.
John: Tony, let us go from a small island like Puerto Rico that you have begun the transformation culturally from an education standpoint from a motivation standpoint and from a policy standpoint now to one of the biggest countries in the world, China. You are now getting involved in a very very meaningful way with all of China and I would love you to explain to our listeners this very groundbreaking and important partnership that you are involved with now and going to be one of the leaders on for the years to come in China in the healthcare sector.
Tony: Yeah, that is a great challenge for us and I am really looking forward to it. I have been there already pre-virus crisis. I will pause for a second though, John, on that Companies for Zero Waste because those-
Tony: They are just great. They are new relatively speaking, but they are very passionate. I communicate with Scott very regularly. I will be speaking at his conference. I think it is rescheduled now to September.They have two hundred plus companies. Everyone is trying to commit to zero waste which is a very very difficult undertaking, and make sure we circle back to that zero waste thing because I want to talk about that, but we will talk about China. So China is massive, right? thirty-one hospitals, twenty-two universities and education organization. It is a massive massive market. It will outshine us, and we are big, either they do now or they will shortly.
Tony: So I was there in 2005. I was invited by the Environmental Protection Bureau of Shanghai to help them with their medical waste technology future. So I flew over in 2005 and I was there for considerable amount of time and I got to assess the operationsof hospitals as it relates to this waste stream and I got to look at some of the technologies that were being used far and wide. To be quite frank, it was actually frightening what they were doing. The people that were handling this waste, there was so much risk and so much exposure and so much aerosolization and pollution. That was back in 2005. Of course since then they have evolved in leaps and bounds. I started talking about waste reductioninitiatives to China back then.
Tony: John, waste reduction are not two words that easily flow and did not flow at all. Ten or fifteen years ago, you start talking about waste reduction. People look at you like you are out of your mind, because we are throwaway society. We throw everything away. I mean our grandmothers and great-grandmothers, I mean in a very natural way, they reused everything. They washed everything. They were used it whether it was diapers. No matter what, right? But as we got more modern and our technology, plastics and everything became disposable. Even in the hospital, right? They would clean and sterilize a syringe and use it over and over again. Today we just throw them away. So the throwaway sort of thing in China– Well, that is really scary, John. I mean I have seen some landfills. Fresh kills landfill is the largest man-made object in the history of our civilization. It is the biggest and has ever made. You know in China, sized landfills of that capacity, they are everywhere and they are running out of space too and their population is huge.
Tony: So very recently I was contacted by a wonderful guy named Michael Edwards, Dr. Michael Edwards who owns a organization called USAT, United States Authentic Trading, and they have been trying to improve public health in China with Western technology is here from everywhere. Not only phenomenal companies, but Mayo, Cleveland Clinic, Purdue, University of California and the list goes on and on and on and on and they bring fascinating things to China and through USAT– You know, USAT is created this channel by which the introduction of these services and products move very rapidly and you get introduced to all of the right people that could make your product or service is very successful in China. So like virtual education, there is a virtual goggle that allows nursing students to actually study nursing without having to go to a building right there. They work on cadavers through this virtual glasses. It is phenomenal stuff.
John: Come on. Wow.
Tony: Long story short, these guys reach out to me because this group of people, Cleveland male all these people, they start doing some homework because the Chinese government has contacted them over the last couple of years. They want a sustainability direction and assistance and they really do not know what to do and they need it. And so this group of people did their diligence and they came up with me and contacted me. We had some initial dialogue and I happily invited myself to participate in this because this is a real challenge for me; Thirty-one thousand hospitals, right? twenty-two thousand is massive and I have to be thinking– again, here are some more personal growth, right? I am a great public speaker. I did speak all over the world. And but now I have to educate hundreds of millions of people and I have to try to figure this out with the Chinese government.
Tony: So we flew over. We had some fantastic meetings with guys who run the largest pharmaceutical companies and you know, who knows the president and the president now wants clean air, blue skies and healthy children. John, no matter what you think about China. I believe this guy actually wants that. I mean whether they are going to compete with us and-
John: I agree with you. Why would not he? I mean, he is a human being. Who does not want their children to have clean air, clean water in a better world? Then we found it.
Tony: Exactly. Right. Well, but that has not really been China’s MO over [crosstalk] right?
Tony: They would rather pollute and win. Now they want to win but they kind of want to do this the right way, which is– now, you are talking my language. Because you could be Jiffy Lube, you could be Price Chopper or you could be Sears Roebuck. I do not care. I do not care what you do. I care about who you are, right? So there is a conscious capitalism that has to be embraced. I do not care if you are the U.S., Puerto Rico, Panama or China. You could be this great country and you could care about your pollution levels, your people, your waste volumes and your water. I mean, all of these things are incredibly powerful and important.
Tony: So we went over. John, the vibe and the chemistry is like I am talking to you now. Robert Yao who runs Una Health over there. He is just a bright man. And they know that I have been doing this for thirty years. So there has not a lot of figuring me out. They already know what I am doing. They already know that I could help them. So what happened is we created this great partnership. I am now the director of Green Hospital education initiatives in China. We will be directing and working hand in hand with the government in helping healthcare operate in a new way and care about their pollution, more about their effect of their communities, et cetera. Now, along comes covid virus. Literally. I mean I come back. I am home. We are starting to build this relationship. They want to approve grants. We are looking at education video. We are looking– and then bang, this thing happens. It shuts China down, shuts me down, conversations, anything but the bigger picture now we have to focus on this immediate crisis. And of course, you know, China starts generating medical waste ten times what it was before and they just do not have the kinds of technologies.
Tony: I have relationships with fabulous people all over the world. And you know, one of them is a good pal who owns a company called Eco-DAS. Eco-DAS is a technology that actually manages, minimizes and destroy medical waste in seventy countries. They just do a great job. We introduced to China to Eco-DAS. We are trying to help them now with this great volume. They literally have, John, a mobile incinerator that rides around in the rural area and burns all this waste.
John: Oh my gosh.
Tony: Well, I am glad you said that because you can remember back in the 70s when it was black smoke and every major city of the U.S. from pathological incinerators burning God knows what in these hospitals and the dioxins and the levels of cancer were just astounding. That is why we do not do that anymore. And now this truck is running around China, burn all this stuff and it just really frightens me. So we are in the middle of doing our best to sort of upgrade, develop, and plan for the future and then hopefully get back to where we, Antos can get over there without team. They want us to set up an office in Shanghai. We are going to do a JV with them on a number of sort of side levels of business and start working on driving sustainability in healthcare. The way I worked on here in the states, I want to sort of mimic and copy over in China. So if I am in the middle of Philadelphia, for example, and I am working at Thomas Jefferson and was once Hardeman. You know, I have got five, six, seven big big clients in Philadelphia. The next thing I am going to do is move right into the university settings as many as I can. And the next thing I am going to do is move right into the K through 12. So we are layering this transformation, this cultural transformation because that is what most important. The best thing we can do in China is to educate the children. The best thing that we can do in Puerto Rico is to educate the children. The best thing we can do in the United States or anywhere in the world is to educate the children. So that now I have a full circle, right? I am at the hospital which is the largest employer of the area. I am at the university which has all these mature minded young people and then we are getting down to that grandma’s school mind where we can create a new way of being these kids can grow and they can become the leaders of our next generation where taking care of our natural resources is weaved into the fabric of their character unlike us. People’s characters can change if you offer someone enough money. Well, those kids– it will not change because it will be who they are and that is the future. So that is China’s future and that is our future and I think that is the world’s future. Right now as I am getting older the importance and focus of that education for the young becomes paramount.
Tony: But getting back to that volume issue, we are going to see it here in the states temporarily, I think. I think we have gone through a cycle of ups and downs even in the momentum of sustainability. I am sure you sense this, John. For a period of years, everybody is all hyped up about the sustainability, “Let us save the planet.” And then all of a sudden it wanes. I do not know why. It just goes away. And then it drops off and everybody is interested in money or everybody is interested in growth, and then it comes back. I mean, I am doing this in thirty years year. So this has happened to me five or six times. But this last time pre virus, I sense a momentum I really sensed before. I was in communication with huge organizations, you know, Kaiser. There is a stronger belief system that is coming from the people and it is not coming from the nurse, the doctor and/or the mechanic. It is coming from the people, schools and universities and they understand that now. There is enough data out there. I mean, this is science.
John: It is real.
Tony: I mean, you have the landfill space. Why are we using so many plastic? Single-use plastic is insane. Now, I do not want Coca-Cola or Pepsi to hate me if they are listening to this because I understand. I am about to work with a great company called Compass out of the Carolina at University of Pittsburgh and we have to look down the road. I mean maybe we are going to be selling Coca-Cola and Pepsi or whatever in single-use plastic right now because that is what we got. But we are going to look at five years from now to that plan. Maybe we can create a new dispenser. Maybe we can create– something has to change and if we are all focused on it and that momentum does not go away then we can change the world. It is very very important that we do.
John: You andI both have children that are young. Julian is my son’s age. My daughter’s a couple years older than them, those kids. And then your younger children are all like Greta Thunberg. They are all literally passionate about this. This was not part of your or my upbringing. We grew up in the public school systems in the New York metropolitan area. It was not part of the U.S. culture and like you said, now you are involved– No pun intended, you are involved with the whole ecosystem in Puerto Rico, U.S. and China. You are down in the education levels with great schoolers. You are on the medical level working with people in the field and you are also working with policymakers on all these levels and that is what is going to move the needle. America had already moved on from the industrial revolution. You have caught China. Unfortunately, China did not have the luxury of going through the industrial revolution when we did. They were going through their industrial technological and sustainability revolution all together and your shepherding them from the industrial and technological revolution, which we went through in sort of a sequential form here in America. You are now helping, shepherd them in Puerto Rico into the sustainability revolution, which we sort of have a jump on here in America, but we are still far behind from South Korea, Japan, Europe, which are like, you said, smaller countries less land could not act as responsibly as larger land masses have acted for all these generations. So now, you are in that unique position of ecosystem, education field, policy making and touching all of those. You really get to push the movement forward much faster than many others who just work in silos.
Tony: Thank you. And that is true. It is not without very deep challenge and frustration and you know, obviously under [crosstalk] about what I do, I love it, right? But some of the things that I come up against and I am grateful that I do not have a truck anymore. I have not had one for thirty years, right? So my agenda is very pure but I am very aware and I have a lot of empathy about the changing sort of industries. The garbage man, he just can not be a garbage man anymore. You know, I meet a guy in Puerto Rico, John, who is doing a hundred million dollars a year. Very nice business; hundred million dollars a year. And this guy does not want to change his company. He does not want to evolve. He likes picking up garbage and he likes making a hundred million dollars a year. I am trying to convince him that that is not going to work anymore. You know, it is been great for you. You have had a great run. Now, you could still make a hundred million dollars a year, but now you have to compost food waste, you have to create some circular economy around your recyclables. There is so many innovative, creative and exciting things that you can do with your resources and potentially make more than a hundred million dollars a year. But what we have are some– you know, they are set in their ways. They are very familiar. They have gotten very used to this revenue and I speak the same way about major companies here in the United States, John, that are just kind of stuck. You know, the garbage guy that comes and says, “We are going to help you recycle and we are going to help you minimize waste.” Well, that is like the mice garden the cheese. It just does not work. So they have to evolve and I do not mean that in a disrespectful way. It has to happen. And that is where I am betting on that college kid and that young sixth grader and twenty-five years from now, we are not going to have garbage men because there is no such thing as garbage.
Tony: Let me do this with you, John, because it is really fun. I do this all the time with lots of people particularly during a speaking engagement. So you are sitting in your office, you have a garbage can, everybody says, “Yes.” And then I asked this very trick question, “Okay, tell me what is garbage” and everybody gets really quiet and I let everybody off the hook, and I am going to let you off the hook because this is a trick question and there are two answers to this question and both answers are absolutely true. The first answer is everything is garbage because that is a garbage can and everything you put in it is going to go to the dumpster and going to go to the landfill and it is garbage, unless a rather sophisticated back in company that is going to segregate on the back end with magnets and blowers and pick out all the resource and sell it somewhere around the world. That is a smart guy. But in your office, it is garbage. The second answer which is absolutely true, is nothing. What is garbage? Paper? No. Plastic? No. Glass? No. What? Half a tuna fish sandwich? No. I can compost that. What? What is garbage? Now, I am a realist, so I know that there are things that are garbage. If you like to eat Frito-Lay chips or something, you know, you got that stupid little bag that you both downstairs at the bodega or a dollar fifty and they would like thirty-two chips and you ate them all. Now you got this stupid little bag and that bag has to be garbage. So if there is no garbage can in your office, what do you do with those few items that need to be put into a trash can? Well, in my clients and in my environments, there is a landfill bucket near the restroom because everybody has got to go to the restroom, but on a floor where there were six hundred garbage cans, now there is one. Got it?
John: Got it.
Tony: And that is how we move towards zero waste. Now, the real problem is that stupid little bag and that single use plastic bottle and all those stupid little things that we buy. Like you know, your Arizona or your Snapple or your favorite iced tea, I mean, why do you buy it? You buy it because you want the liquid but when the liquid is gone, what do you do? You throw the glass bottle in a public garbage can. You walk away. The bottle will take a hundred years to decompose. You will be dead. You know, we need a therapist here. This is serious. You can not do that. So people have to become accustomed to taking a water bottle with them, fill a water bottle with iced tea for later, buy a big stupid bag of chips and fill a little bag that you can reuse, take your lunch with– Like it is just changing behavior and minimizing your impact on the planet.
Tony: John, when you and I were born, there were two billion people on the planet. Now there are– how many? How many are there going to be in another twenty? This is hard and we have to make some radical changes in our behavior. But I think the momentum is there and I am so grateful for today because the more I get to talk about it, the more I can help implement change.
John: Let us end this episode by talking about what are you going to be doing at Companies for Zero Waste next conference in Newark, New Jersey on September 29th and 30th, where you are going to be one of the keynote speakers. Can you share a little bit with our audience? Give them a little taste of what you are going to be talking about.
Tony: Of course. Well, more of what you heard today. You know, this is one of those occasions where I feel honored because I am actually preaching to the choir, right? I tend to like more when I am sitting in front of a thousand people who are not devotees or are working for some massive organization like Microsoft and I am trying to change the entire country. This particular instance I am going to be sitting in front of industry leaders who really want to do this. So it is not just going to be about medical waste, my discussion. It is going to be about this cultural transformation that is absolutely necessary. And listen, if Subaru can make a damn car in Indianapolis in 2001, they decided they were going to be a zero waste company in 2004, they did not landfill a coffee cup. Nothing. As a matter of fact, last year, John, they took their final item, which was the coffee pod out of those machines. You know what I am talking about?
Tony: Now, they make picnic benches out of the pods. This is Subaru. This is an automobile manufacturing company. They make damn cars and they landfill nothing. Now, if they can do that, I would guess eighty-five percent of the industry in the United States can do that. We just have to create the desire. Now, my desire– and I will be sharing this with Scott and his group in September, is when you do not throw something away, you save money. I mean, this is how I have made money, John, my whole life, right? I mean, if I save a hospital a hundred bucks, I get a portion of the hundred bucks and they do not have to pay me anything unless I deliver the savings. So if you are feeling up a compactor five times a week and when I get done with my magic, it is twice a month. You just cut your costs besides your volume dramatically. When Thomas Jefferson’s medical waste cost goes from six hundred thousand a year to eighty. I mean, listen, if you are not inspired to save the planet, you got to be inspired to save money. We need to talk about this now to companies and policymakers who are stuck and you know, they have been business as usual, Waste Management Inc., TerraCycle, on and on and on, Republic and Allied and you know, we know what their business is. They have got to step up. They have got to evolve. They have got to join in on this. Of course, they are not sitting in the audience in September. I believe they should be. They need to surround themselves with people who want to change their behavior. Now, is it going to impact their revenue? Absolutely. TerraCycle has been trying to wipe me off the planet for twenty years. My buddy Charlie Eludo, we grew up on Long Island together. He was the president of TerraCycle for three years and he was fighting himself whether to buy me or build me. He did not know what to do with me, but there were years when I cost them seventy million dollars because we reduce the volume. That is the magic of personal power and I am going to be discussing this in great detail with those wonderful guys- [crosstalk]
Tony: –to throw a waste and they will probably be two hundred companies. They are trying to be zero waste. Let us talk about zero waste just for a minute, John, because two very easy words to say, you know, very easy, but this is a very huge undertaking. It is massive and it is not going to happen in like– you do not use duct tape and magic wands here. This is bigger than losing weight or stopping smoking. This is massive, right? And we do not do that very well. We do not need good with [crosstalk] way. We do not do those things very well.
Tony: So zero waste is an undertaking and an evolution in my mind and it easily is a five-year game. You are maybe not going to get there even then because it has so much to do with the purchasing aspect, the utilization asking those big questions, do I need this? You know, we go to a supermarket, John, and we have been for most of our lives and you go to the produce section and there is a big wheel of plastic bags and you pull plastic bag out and you put your broccoli in. Now that seems really normal, but it is not normal because we do not need the plastic bag. There are companies now that make net breathable bags of all different sizes. My wife and I have them and we do not take a plastic bag. We have not taken plastic bag in years because we go to the supermarket carrying these net bags for all of the produce and eliminate the use of plastic. That simple shift has to be done in every which way from Sunday in either personal homes or schools or hospitals or businesses and that is how you slowly get to zero waste. The most satisfying thing of the zero waste initiative is the process and I joke and say, well, it is wonderful to fail and I do not mean failure in a negative way. But you know, when you start reducing your overall waste volume by eighty percent or ninety percent,I know you want a hundred percent but wow! We just cut this back down to eighty-five percent and it is massive and that is what we need. So I am an advocate. We have done it tons of times. We are helping organizations as we speak today. Well, not exactly today unless we could do it on Zoom. How about Zoom these days, John? What a company?
John: Right, right.
Tony: I am looking forward to September. I support the Companies for Zero Waste in what they are doing and I am going to have a great time when I am presenting.
John: For any of our listeners out there that want to buy tickets to come see Tony speak and the other great speakers that Companies for Zero Waste in Newark, New Jersey on September 29th and 30th, you could go to www.companiesforzerowaste.com. To reach Tony the CEO of Antos Environmental, you could go to www.antosinc.com. Tony, you are making a huge impact in our world and making the world a better place. I thank you for your time today. I thank you for what you are doing for all of us on our behalf and on the environments behalf. And again, thank you for being my friend and a guest today.
Tony: Pleasure, John. I look forward to speaking with you again soon.